ḴANDAQ, a Persian loanword in Arabic meaning a trench or a moat (lit. “dug” <kan “to dig”), possibly also a wall or an enclosure.

The famous Ḵandaq Sābur along the southwestern border of Iraq, ascribed to the Sasanian monarch Šāpur II (r. 309-79), was one of four defensive barriers constructed at vulnerable points along the Sasanian frontiers; the other three were in the north. The Ḵandaq Sābur was restored and extended by Ḵosrow I Anošervān (r. 531-79), who ordered a ḵandaq to be dug from Hit on the Euphrates along the edge of the desert to the seacoast at Kāẓema (Kuwait) near Basra. He fortified it with watchtowers and garrison posts to prevent the people of the desert from entering the Sawād, the cultivated wetlands in lower Iraq. This Ḵandaq Kesrā was considered to be the boundary between Iraq and the Najd (Arabia). The remains of these fortifications survive at sites such as Żabʿ south of Ukaydir (Oḵayżer), Qaṣr Ruża at Wādi Bordān, and building A at Qoṣayr South, 60 km southwest of Nāṣeriya. A Sasanian watchtower, called al-Qāʾem, survives on the right bank of the Euphrates, below al Ṣāleḥiya.

What is represented in the literature as a single moat-canal was most likely a series of canal systems and oases that included the ʿOyun al-Ṭaff along the northwestern end of the ḵandaq. Musil (p. 347) could find no evidence of a fortified trench southeast of Hit and suggested that the Ṭār al-Haybān escarpment that stretches to the southeast formed a natural line of fortification. He noted that all of the Persian frontier stations lay east of this ridge and that traces of a huge irrigation canal extend from a few kilometers below Hit to the beginning of Ṭār al-Haybān. McGuire Gibson (Gibson and Field, pp. 16, 24) also noted a massive Sasanian and early Islamic canal system in the gravel desert southwest of the Euphrates in the Najaf-Karbalāʾ region, suggested that the Ḵandaq Sābur provided water to a line of fortresses and farms before emptying into the Gulf, and identified it with the Nahr Saʿid that left the Euphrates at Hit in the Islamic period.

The expression “ḵandaq” was also used for other canals. The Ḵandaq al-Qādeṣiya lay to the west of that town where Musil (p. 111) noted the remains of a Persian rampart. This may be the same as the canal called al-ʿAtiq “the old” near Qādeṣiya. It went from the Euphrates to the Tigris and is called a ḵandaq that used to belong to the ʿAjam (i.e., the Persians; see Ṭabari, I, pp. 2285, 2543; II, p. 102). There was also a village called al-Ḵandaq in the territory of Behrasīr (Weh-Ardešīr) in the time of Ḵosrow II Parvīz (r. 591-628). According to Masʿudi (Moruj I, p. 228; ed. Pellat, sec. 240), another canal, simply called ḵandaq, ran from the Euphrates to the Tigris, between Takrit and Baghdad, along with the Ṣarāt and Nahr ʿIsa canals.

The Ḵandaq Sābur has also been identified as the war ī tāzigān mentioned in the Pahlavi Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr. H. S. Nyberg (“Westgrenze,” p. 318) translates it into German as “die Araberfestung” (i.e. the Arab fortress), followed by T. Daryaee, who calls it "the wall of the Arabs” (Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr, pp. 19 and 20). H. Mahamedi (pp. 152-56 and 159) argues that it might have been a moat on the Arab side and a wall on the Persian side.

The most famous use of a ḵandaq in early Islamic history is the trench that the Prophet Moḥammad had dug (according to some at the advice of the Persian Companion Salmān al-Fāresi) to protect Medina from a Meccan attack in Ḏu’l-Qaʿda 5/April 627, an event called the Battle of the Ditch (Balʿami, I, pp. 202-7). In modern times, it referred in Persian to the defensive ditches that surrounded a number of cities (e.g., Tehran;  Karimān, p. 223).



Primary sources.

Abu ʿObayd ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz Bakri Andalusi, Moʿjam mā estaʿjama men asmāʾ al-belad wa-’l-mawādi, ed. Moṣṭafā Saqqāʾ, 4 vols., Cairo, 1945-51, III, p. 914.

Abu’l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā Balāḏori, Ketāb fotuḥ al-boldān, ed. M. J. de Goeje, Leiden, 1968, p. 298.

Abu ʿAli Moḥammad Balʿami, Tāriḵ-nāma-ye Ṭabari, gardānida-ye mansub be Balʿami, ed. Moḥammad Rowšan, 3 vols., Tehran, 1967; tr. Hermann Zotenberg as Chronique de . . . Tabari, traduite sur la version persane d’Abou-ʿAli Belʿami, Paris, 1938, III, p. 395.

Ebn Hešām, Sirat Rasul-Allāh, ed. Heinrich Ferdinand Wüstenfeld, Göttingen, 2 vols., 1858-60, pp. 669-713; tr. Alfred Guillaume as The Life of Muhammad, London, 1980, pp. 450-82, 764.

Ebn Rosta, pp. 107-8; tr. Wiet, p. 120. Ṭabari, I, pp. 1041, 1463-85, 2285, 2543; II, p. 102.

Moḥammad b. ʿOmar Wāqedi, Ketāb al-maḡāzi, ed. Marsden Jones, London, 1966, pp. 440-96. Yāqut, Boldān II, p. 476; IV, p. 746.

Secondary sources.

Touraj Daryaee, ed. and tr., Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr: A Middle Persian Text on the Late Antique Geography, Epic and History, Costa Mesa, 2002, pp. 14, 16, 19, 20, 43.

Barbara Finster and Jürgen Schmidt, Sasanidische und fruhislamische Ruinen im Iraq, Baghdader Mitteilungen 8, 1976, pp. 26, 37-39, 44-47, 53-54.

Richard N. Frye, “The Sasanian System of Walls for Defense,” in Myriam Rosen-Ayalon, ed., Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet, Jerusalem, 1977, pp. 8-11.

McGuire Gibson and Henry Field, The City and Area of Kish, Miami, 1972, pp. 16, 24.

Ḥosayn Karimān, Tehrān dar goḏašta wa ḥāl(l), Tehran, 1976.

Hamid Mahamedi, “Wall As A System of Frontier Defense during the Sasanid Period,” in Touraj Daryaee and Mahmoud Omidsalar, eds., The Spirit of Wisdom (Mēnōg ī Xrad): Essays in Memory of Ahmad Tafazzoli, Costa Mesa, 2004, pp. 145-59.

William Montgomery Watt, “Khandaḳ,” in EI² IV, p. 1020.

Idem, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, 1956, pp. 35-39.

Michael G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest, Princeton, 1984, pp. 152-53.

Alois Musil, The Middle Euphrates: A Topographical Itinerary, New York, 1927, pp. 14-15, 347-48, 351.

Henrik Samuel Nyberg, “Die sassanidische Westgrenze und ihre Vertei digung,” in Septentrionalia et orientalia: Studia Bernhardo Karlgren a. D. III Non. Oct. anno MCMLIX dedicata, Stockholm, 1959, pp. 316-26.

(Michael G. Morony)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: April 20, 2012

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